Creosote Removal

Creosote treated wood pilings are a significant source of contamination to nearshore environments of the Salish Sea. As creosote leaches into the marine environment, it impacts forage fish spawning habitat, valuable eelgrass beds, and other nearshore habitats and species. Creosote vapors also pose a risk to human health. Removing creosote treated material from the marine environment is a priority for the Marine Resources Committee and San Juan County. 

Why is it important to remove creosote:

Removing creosote pilings will:

  • Remove a source of toxic hydrocarbon contamination to the nearshore environment,
  • Improve water quality,
  • Improve conditions for eelgrass habitat,
  • Reduce toxics to forage fish,
  • Protect and promote habitat for rearing juvenile salmon.

Removing creosote is a significant benefit to the county’s waters and communities. The County is made up of 428 islands with over 408 miles of shoreline. There are 80 miles of known forage fish spawning beaches, 22 stocks of Salish Sea Chinook salmon migrate through the islands nearshores and one third of all kelp in Puget Sound is found in the San Juans and the islands provide critical forage habitat for the endangered Southern Resident Orca.

Jackson Beach Phase 1 Complete!

Over the course of two and half days in mid-October, the remnants of the former La Farge gravel pit pier were removed. For many, this was a piece of history that was hard to see disappear, but the derelict pier had been crumbling for decades and the creosote piles were leaching toxins into the nearshore waters of Jackson Beach. Creosote-treated wood was a standard material used to build marine infrastructure but it created a generational impact on our sensitive marine environment.

This successful removal lays the first steps toward a restoration of the shoreline that will improve habitat for forage fish, vital food for salmon, sea birds, and marine mammals. For the community, the eastern end of Jackson Beach, is important as an active barge landing where San Juan County Public Works brings in needed road materials, and also where affordable housing units are occasionly brought in. In recent years, through an agreement with the Port of Friday Harbor, the beach has also become an important location for a kayak launch, helping to disperse kayak tours to different launch sites around the island. All this highlights the importance of the beach to the community and the local marine environment. For those that don't want this piece of island history forgotten fear not, interpretive signage telling the stories of this area are being planned.

Huge thanks to Quigg Brothers for a quick and smooth removal operation, and thanks also to the Northwest Straits Commission for securing the funding, and the Marine Resources Committee for deciding that this was the project to do!

Jackson Beach before the creosote covered piling removal.
And after! Look at shoreline restoration in action.
Look at the crane go to work removing old pilings.
Quigg Brothers made quick work dismantling and removing the old pier.
Deconstruction underway
We love to see these toxic structure go!
Nearly all of the piles stacked on a barge
Quigg Brothers moving out after a job well done

Jackson Beach Pile Removal Project

In 2023 the MRC received a one-time grant through the NWSC to remove the remnant pier structure at Jackson Beach. The derelict creosote pilings and dolphins are what remains of a former gravel production operation which sourced gravel at what is now the LaFarge Open Space, located upland from the beach across Pear Point Road, on San Juan Island. The remaining piles were the support structures for a barge pier which was used for loading gravel onto commercial barges for transport to other locations.

Today, the 117 piles are a significant source of toxic creosote contamination to the marine environment and their removal is long-overdue. The MRC, working with San Juan County Marine Program staff are working to remove the piles following the Best Management Practices laid out by the WA State Department of Natural Resources in the early fall of 2023.

This project is being undertaken using Federal funds under award NA22NMF4690358 from NOAA, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

County-wide Creosote Assessment

San Juan County’s Local Integrating Organization identified the need to conduct a county-wide assessment of creosote as a Near Term Action (NTA) within the Puget Sound Action Agenda, 2018-2022. This project is being funded by the US EPA National Estuary Program.

During July 2023 Environmental Sciences Associates (ESA) is conducting a county-wide assessment of creosote. This effort is building off the shoreline inventory completed by Friends of the San Juan’s in 2009. Friends identified 378 creosote pilings and 356 docks with creosote along the shorelines of the San Juans.

This project will inventory and assess in-water creosote pilings in San Juan County. The surveys will identify what has been removed since 2009 and what remains. There will be a focus on publicly owned sites to determine whether the pilings could be removed as part of a stand-alone restoration project or replaced as part of upgrades to an existing facility or structure and the survey work will allow the county to lay out a roadmap for permitting these different avenues of removal.

This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement: PC-01J22301 through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

For more information contact San Juan County Marine Project Manager Frances Robertson,, 360-375-5271

Creosote Removal